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The trial of the twenty-one: a reassessment of the Commandants of Norfolk Island, 1788-1814 and 1825-1855

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posted on 2022-03-28, 16:18 authored by Reginald Colin Wright
Twentieth century writers have generally condemned the harshness of the convict administrations of a number of the Commandants during both the First (1788-1814) and Second (1825-1855) Settlements of Norfolk Island. On the other hand, several Commandants have also received unwarranted praise for their efforts to improve the lot of the convicts under their control. Some of these views have relied on questionable or biased writings, which are not supported by the surviving official records. This thesis considers some of the environmental factors and events that affected the Commandants. After examining the significant features of their periods of service on Norfolk Island, it is evident that historians have unfairly treated a number of these officers. The severity of convict life on the Island during the Second Settlement has been exaggerated; the regime of corporal punishment has been dramatized and was in fact less severe than that applied during the First Settlement, which was not planned as a place for secondary punishment. Again, for example, there is no support for the view that during the Second Settlement the convicts welcomed death to relieve them of their sufferings on Norfolk Island. In the 19th century, a significant proportion of the informative literature about the convict settlements on Norfolk Island, and particularly the Second Settlement, was written by individuals who wished to promote their own agendas for change. Supporters of concepts such as prison reform, opposition to transportation, the elimination of assignment to private masters, and moral reform in the colony of New south Wales, provided exaggerated pictures of life on Norfolk Island. The misrepresentation of the Commandants is attributed to the survival and promotion of these often-skewed writings that yielded copy for imaginative, fictional narratives about the convict years.


Alternative Title

Appendices to The trial of the twenty-one.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. The proselytiser -- 3. The wayfarers -- 4. The builder -- 5. The playboy -- 6. The first closure -- 7. A fuzzy enlightenment -- 8. A faulted Alcatraz -- 9. Birds of passage -- 10. The emperor with clothes -- 11. Three military majors -- 12.The idealist -- 13. The maligned marine -- 14. The realist -- 15. The end of convictism -- 16. Conclusions.


Spine title of volume 2: Appendices to The trial of the twenty-one. "A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Macquarie University". Bibliography: pages 390-405 (volume 1) "November 2001".

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Division of Humanities, Department of Modern History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Raymond Nobbs

Additional Supervisor 1

Frank Clarke


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Reg Wright 2001. This thesis was digitised for the purposes of Document Delivery. Macquarie University ResearchOnline attempted to locate the author but where this has not been possible; we are making available, open access, the thesis which may be used for the purposes of private research and study. If you have any enquiries or issues regarding this work being made available please contact Macquarie University ResearchOnline -




New South Wales


1 online resource (2 volumes (vii, 405, 130 leaves)) illustrations, maps

Former Identifiers

mq:33465 2074574